Professor Fred Newton Binka: An academic and researcher par excellence

“One good turn deserves another,” so the adage goes. Thus, it was most appropriate and fitting for the authorities of the University of Health and Allied Sciences (UHAS) in the Volta Region to name the School of Public Health,at Hohoe after the professor of clinical epidemiology, the first Vice Chancellor of the UHAS. Therefore, from June 9, the school is now known as University of Health and Allied Sciences Fred N. Binka School of Public Health, with his bust in front of the school.

The academic and scientist deserves the honour because he is a “gem of a person”who leaves a footprint wherever he goes to work.

A similar honour has been bestowed on him at the Navrongo Health Research Centre (NHRC) in the Upper East Region, where he had lived and worked for a decade, 1988 to 1998.Indeed, one of the offices there has been named after him.

I had worked under him for seven years from August 1990 to September 1997 when I left to study Journalism at the Ghana Institute of Journalism. So, I write about him on authority!

An alumni of University of Ghana, Hebrew University in Jerusalem and University of Basel in Switzerland, where he obtained PhD with Summa cum laude (distinction).Indeed, my name is included in the list of people he acknowledged in his PhD thesis!

The findings and recommendations of Ghana Vitamin ‘A’ Supplementation Trial (Ghana VAST) he co-investigated with Ghanaian scientists and their counterparts from the London School of Health and Tropical Medicine between 1989 -1992 had been translated into policy and Vitamin A is now incorporated into Ghana’s immunization programme for the survival and good health of children under five years.

In 1992, when the Ghana VAST project wound up and the Ministry of Health took over the place as its research centre, he  was made the director.

Then Dr Binka remarked (in a staff meeting) that he knew people would say since the white people have left, the black Ghanaians would run down the place.

The centre was rather elevated during his tenure as Director from 1992-1998.He attracted a lot funding for numerous studies. Navrongo, thus, became a gateway to research studies in Africa!

As the Head of the NHRC, he had ensured that findings and recommendations from research studies had been translated into policies, for better health outcomes in the population.

He helped in institutional capacity building and to make the place a centre of excellent in research,with global recognition.

The Navrongo Community Health and Reproductive Project he also co-investigated gave birth to the Community-based Health Planning and Services (CHPS), subsequently translated into what is commonly known as the “CHPS compounds”, to provide primary healthcare to the doorsteps of clients.

Again, the Mosquitoes Benet Studies which he was the principal investigator found that sleeping under an insecticide-treated mosquito significantly helped to reduce malaria (transmitted by anopheles mosquito) mortality and morbidity.

Indeed, I was one of his “chief strategist” and principal supervisors on the study.Following from the study, the use of insecticide treated net is now a major primary health care policy, and tool in malaria control and prevention in Ghana.

The Malaria Attack Rate Study, the last study I got involved in under his investigation before I left for school, has also contributed to the epidemiology data for the Malaria Vaccine Trials, and subsequent roll out of malaria vaccine for immunization in Ghana and parts of Africa.

It was also under his stewardship that the Navrongo Demographic Surveillance System (NDSS) that involves periodic visits to all compounds in the Kassena-Nankana study area to collect data on pregnancy, births, deaths, in-migration and out-migration. This surveillance system is the major resource data for the conduct of research.The NDSS has since been replicated at the Kintampo and Dodowa Health Research Centres.

Prof Binka as I know him, upholds the core values of high ethical standards in research with very credible outcomes.

He inspired people under him to work to achieve results. He provide adequate resources and logistics for work to be carried out. So, no room for failure working under him.

We nicknamed him “General”, for his commanding presence. He is a man of authority. He provides exemplary leadership for staff to deliver. He sometimes used intimidation, aggression, “patapaa and takashie” to get people execute a task with excellent results.

He went to the field with us to supervise us to achieve results. He did things in common with us in field. He provided solutions when we were handicapped.

We parted company in Navrongo. He got appointment on the Roll Back Malaria project in abroad. He was back to the University of Ghana, School of Public Health to lecture and also was the Executive Director of INDEPTH Network, an NGO.

He was appointed first Vice Chancellor of the UHAS in 2012. I followed him up to Ho to see what he was doing and to help publicise some of the teething problems of the newly-established university that he helped to establish.

In his office then at the Ho Regional Hospital(Trafalgar), I saw a press-cutting of a cartoon, with inscription “university under tree” pasted on his door.It was ostensibly meant to depict that after all, the so-called university in Ho did not exist; perhaps a public relation gimmick to satisfy the people.

I followed his stewardship closely in Ho. By the end of his tenure of office in 2016, the UHAS was solid on the ground with many of the faculties and schools established and soon attracted both local and international attention.

Before I dropped off my pen; there is an aspect of my former boss, mentor and elder brother that is worth mentioning: Generosity and kindness to all manner of persons! In January 2002, when I was struggling to get my feet into the world of work in Accra,I lost my mother in Bolgatanga and needed to travel. I got to his office at Kanda and broke my sad story to him.

“Oh Salifu, so sorry to hear that. When are you going to bury your mother?” he asked me. He was very busy on his desk and asked me to give him some few minutes. Moments later, he called me back to his office,he pulled out a bundle of money from his drawer and gave it to me. I don’t have his permission to disclose what he gave me, so, I leave that to God, him and myself!

One regret I have working under him, perhaps, I could not get the opportunity like others to build my capacity to become an academic and researcher like him.

I joined him at Navrongo with ‘A’ Level results. Others who came with first degree and were science and social science-biased benefitted from scholarship and capacity building programmes, with some becoming doctorate holders and professors.

No qualms about that though. The mental toughness I built for myself working under you, your core values of good work ethics and dedication to duty, allhelped to shape me into a kind of Journalist you certainly have wished me to become. 

Professor Fred Newton Binka, I salute you; you deserve it all!!

By Salifu Abdul-Rahaman

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